Monday, November 27, 2006
‘Me? No yaar, I am fine.’ I insisted for the third time.
‘No, but you look so withdrawn and gloomy. Is there anything you want to talk about?’
‘Hmmm…Yeah, I am in the vortex of sadness and excruciating pain. I think it’s the weather. All the leaves departing the trees has made my happy soul depart me.’ While I was at it, I also launched into Pittsburgh-bashing convinced that we have finally arrived upon the reason why I looked so sad.
‘I hope you tell Pi what’s bothering you if you don’t want to confide in me.’
I tried to think how many times I might have met her before. I could count with the two fingers of my right hand. Both the times I didn’t recall bouncing about like a clown in front of her. I was as sober as an ailing hyena.
Anyway, it did get me thinking about this depression and I came up with a few more causes. Next day I met her.
‘Hi Gymmi!’ I tried to jump up and down and wave, all the time beaming my guts out trying to look extra happy. 'Hehehahahaw-yoodle doodle!!'
‘Are you all right? You sound a little down,’ she started off without a cue. If she was an aspiring shrink I would have sued her for shameless self promo. But she works for an IT firm. To think I was the one who’s supposed to be depressed.
‘You know what, I think I know why. Last time you saw me I was going on vacation. Now I am back. Obviously I am not a happy camper. Logic, eh?’ I congratulated myself.
‘No no, now I get it. When I met you, you were this normal person. Just as you were leaving for vacation, my friend (who reads your blog) told me you are damn funny. So I guess I was under that impression all along. Anyway, mystery solved. Wanna go for dinner?’
Now I am truly depressed.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
We met Gini and Parmanu at Heidelberg Train Station a couple of minutes late by which time Gini had concluded that I am a rebel for not following her instructions closely. She scolded me just as we hugged. So much for the initial niceties. Brother Parmanu impressed me with his Mercedes and business suit (probably Armani) that he wore just for this occasion. I just hope the Merc loaded with an annoying GPS unit wasn’t an expensive hire. Heildelberg had a very dreamlike feel to it. A lovely castle on a hill with the full moon as a backdrop and swans on the river….I came back to reality only when the swans bit my fingers. Sister Gini just heard about her new job offer and we went, ‘Treat treat!’ What perfect timing, I say. We were treated at the Indian restaurant much to our happiness. That reminds me, I hope the biryani I packed is still in the fridge.
Reached their cozy home in Waldorf and as tired as we were, the hosts started this insane fight with us and got us exhausted. Parmanu decided to let me and Sims sleep in the bedroom while he slept in the living room. He had also cleared up some shelf space for our belongings. So very sweet. But I couldn’t let them do that unless they had intentions of letting us stay there for a month. We fought and finally they relented when I threatened them with some of my jokes. It wasn’t such a big sacrifice as the living room was perfectly fine and even had a nice pull out bed. It had fluffier pillows and soft mattress. Hmmm... maybe that’s why he wanted to sleep here. I had one scarring incident some years ago due to this kind of behavior. This was during my brother’s first night when they (brother and wife) felt bad that I was sleeping (rather happily and comfortably) on the living room floor. After a long battle, the three of us were sleeping uncomfortably on the bed. My mom still blames me for their not having kids yet.
So coming back to Parmanu’s home, it was very comfortable and the hosts made it even more so. Colours(Parmanu’s wife) was having an affair in Switzerland and hence couldn’t make it. We missed her whenever someone said she makes some really good food.
Next day morning after a spectacular spread of delicious breakfast by Gini, we were driven (in the same Mercedes to the songs of Rang de Basanti) to Sasbachwalden, another pretty little town in Black forest.
We also spent a considerable time talking about blogging and bloggers. I am sure Sims enjoyed every bit of this part. We tried to explain the whole deal and she tried to understand, poor thing. ‘You get free accommodation if you blog?’
The highlight of the day was of course the Indian play ‘Teen Sakina Manzil’ by Ramu Ramanathan whom we had a chance to meet and get impressed with. Ramu seemed quite enthusiastic himself about the small scratch he was making in Germany. Even I was quite taken by the German response and visibility this play had gathered. If you think our experience in Germany was getting to be quite India oriented, wait till you hear the rest. That night in Frankfurt we had some great Indian food at a restaurant. With Parmanu around, I am told, we were lucky that we had our fill of other cuisines before we embarked in Germany.
Next day we went to the well known Frankfurt Book Fair with India being the theme this year. Lucky me- I was just not getting enough of India in Europe. Indian authors like Shashi Tharoor, Vikram Seth, Vikram Chandra etc were invited as guests. There were Indian programs and book readings translated to German. When I walked in, a Tamil poet, Salma, was reading out excerpts and it was being translated to German. It felt quite good to see all the excitement about India and Indian authors. As much as I am fond of books, Parmanu survives on them. If it was possible, he’d be reading one while driving. Or maybe he was being polite this one time. The clincher to the day was the anna-saaru that Gini cooked that night. She will get hundred children if my blessings work. By that time I think the hosts were tired of being nice all the time. Their true colours surfaced. They made me watch the movie Padosan! The fact that I hadn’t watched the movie before got them all worked up and they assured me that it was a hilarious movie that I shouldn’t miss. Half way through the movie, I will agree that Padosan is a movie I will buy to torture my kids when they disobey me. ‘Go watch Padosan, you ingrates… If I tell daddy that you broke the flower pot, he’ll make you watch it twice again. Just you wait.’
Gini, Colours & Parmanu, I didn't do justice to the wonderful times we had just coz I did not want to advertize your place for random bloggers to take refuge. I think we might have made Sims a die hard blogger, if not a believer that all bloggers aren't as weird as me. Overall, the weekend couldn’t have been more perfect. Let me think….. really hard…nah! I think you guys made our Germany experience worth gloating about. Die End!
Thursday, November 23, 2006
I had great expectations of the Louvre only to realize my zest for Art and History took a hike at the most inopportune time. I had intentions of spending two full days assimilating what the entire museum had to offer. Suddenly seeing decapitated Greek guys with only their penises intact, paintings of women strategically covering a single breast with loin cloth that Gandhi later advocated for these purposes, Napoleon’s dining table and all his gaudy furniture …. had me running to exit and getting misled and lost only to find myself in some other art gallery where I walked into this painting.
I was so taken aback that I turned around and laughed so hard as to not hurt the sentimentalities of the people who were seriously admiring this work of art and taking down notes. After 10 minutes of uncontrolled giggling I looked up at the painting I was actually facing- a very gruesome depiction of crucifying of the Christ! Jeezus!
Next thing I know I was following the signs that led to Mona Lisa…. There were at least 23 of them. All the hype and we were greeted with that mocking half mysterious smile from this lady who was enclosed in a glass chamber and protected by an armed security. If she still has a reason to smile living in the Louvre day and night, I think we all better learn a thing or two from her.
We saw the Pantheon and hanging scrotum sacs (or balls as you kids would call it) from the ceiling. Some designer’s weird sense of humor, I guess.
Next we ate crepes, got drunk on wine and ate from garbage cans and drank from ornate fountains (I have a valid excuse- water and food is expensive in Paris). I even spat on the streets of Paris. Got up with terrible headache the next day and enacted the whole Bhishma pratignya thing to swear off of booze forever (after the Europe trip and New Years eve and…some blanks to be filled later). Yes, another must do in Paris was checked.
Next couple of days in Paris went off pretty quick just when I had pulled out my English- French dictionary to facilitate doing the laundry. I couldn’t figure out the machine and a helpful handsome French guy, tried to explain the whole process in French. I cast vague helpless looks and he took charge. He put my clothes in the washer (said something in French which probably meant ‘Put your clothes in the washer like so’), and then he proceeded to use another vending machine to buy some laundry detergent while continuously talking in French (obviously telling me ‘You twit, this is how you buy detergent). Patiently he explained the working of the machine, while pressing some buttons, turning some knobs and actually doing the whole thing for me. He could have been on mute and saved himself the trouble of dealing with my love struck self trying to hold on to every little French word and saying ‘Merci’ some million times. Lord have mercy!
In the laundry room, after my French God left, an American guy smiled and said, ‘I could have helped you, but you seemed to be having a better laundry experience with him.’
‘Merci’, I told him.
Friday, November 17, 2006
There are various categories of symbiosis seen when two organisms interact:
Parasitism, in which the association is disadvantageous or destructive to one of the organisms and beneficial to the other (+ −)
So here I was wondering as to how I managed to convince myself to come to Eiffel Tower when I was having a great time shopping at Champs Elysees when I was interrupted by an Indian guy asking me to take a picture of him in front of the tower. Obviously I obliged. He felt obligated to take a picture of me in the same location with my camera, making me stand with a hand on my hip and my head slightly bent for studio quality photograph. I obliged to his obligation. That’s when the story went downhill... or rather, up the tower.
I started to wander around the base of the tower and wherever I turned, I met him by sheer coincidence of course. ‘Can you take a photo here in front of that statue?’
‘Now let me take yours. Give me your camera.’
‘Oh look, it’s you again. One more photo please!’… and then so it went on forever.
That explains my extreme emotions in certain photos. So I ran amok to try to flee from the Photo-Nazi when I was confronted with a superb idea. I decided to climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator as a means of escape. Seeing his bulk in person and through the lens, I was pretty sure he’d find a more sedentary prey to continue with his Eiffel Tower portfolio.
In five minutes of running up the stairs, I heard unmistakable panting and puffing. ‘Do you know I am a Sri Lankan? Huff..Pufff.. slow down. I want a picture taken here on the stairs!’
‘Wait, let me take a picture of you in my camera and send it to you by email. Isn’t it so cool that we found each other to take pictures? ’
That does it! I sprinted ahead, crouched behind a dustbin and didn’t move for 30 minutes straight. Yes, at the cost of looking suspicious to people wanting to throw trash. That’s when I lost him much to my utter delight.
BTW, when you do have time after escaping from self obsessed Sri Lankans, do look out of the tower. It’s got a great view with no openings to throw yourself out of!
Mutualism, in which the association is advantageous to both (+ +)
Back in Champs Elysees, a Chinese guy stopped me in the middle of the sidewalk and asked me if I spoke English. Very wary that it might be for some money, I replied in affirmative. Maybe I liked being asked for money. Gives me kicks that people think I do have money. Especially decently dressed individuals like himself. But he didn’t ask me for any cash. He gave me some infact. 330 Euros in hard currency. He asked me to quickly put the sum in my pocket lest someone notices. I was about to thank him and skip away into the sunset; but like all sweet deals, there was a catch to this one. I was asked to buy this particular wallet from Louis Vuitton (for which he had a sample) for him. I get no commision in this deal and I could very well be arrested if the notes were counterfiet. But in some whim, I agreed to carry out this weird request. If he had asked me to take a picture of him, I might have screamed. This way, I thought to myself, I get to go inside the swanky LV store and actually buy something. I could walk out of the store for one block with a Louis Vuitton bag in my hand. Hah! This is great!
Before you conclude I am quite an abnormal person, he did mention that he wasn’t being let into the store and I had heard rumors that stores in Paris were known for their snooty behaviour. Helping the hapless and walletless was my prerogative.
So I walked in effortlessly and stayed in the store for an hour admiring the disgusting purses locked up behind glass cases some billed at 20,000 Euros. I took my own time as I had to keep our Chinese man on his toes. Hopefully he was breaking into a sweat thinking that I actually ran away with his money from some underground passage. After going from one sales rep to another, I was finally handed the wallet in forceps to check. It was then neatly wrapped in some box and placed in a LV bag. ‘Ma’am, credit card or cash?’
I needed cash so the thought of using my credit card did occur, but I decided against it imagining it would hurt me more than the store if that money was actually fake.
As I walked out, I could see him waving to me across the street excitedly, at the same time suspiciously looking around. Anyway, I handed the wallet to him asking him to check if it was alright. He grabbed the bag, thanked me quickly, threw the packaging, pocketed the wallet and walked away real fast. A little perplexed, I was glad to take the empty bag home.
If you ever buy a fake LV from Chinatown for 10 bucks, remember Alpha and thank her for that prototype that she provided to make your purse look like an exact replica.
Commensalism, in which one member of the association benefits while the other is not affected (+ 0)
I saw Arch De Triomph at the far end of Champs Elysees and decided to get a closer look having come this far. As I went closer, familiar music engulfed me. ‘No way! No freaking way!’
Abhishek, Lara and the croonies were here too. Second day in a row. My stars were aligned perfectly and literally. Same clothes, different venue…the song sequence continues. I was hoping to let Aby baby know about my plans for the next day so I could see him again. Sigh!
Thursday, November 02, 2006
It was night by the time we got off at Paris after much debate as I was convinced that the announcement in the train, ‘Pariee di Nooaahha’, didn’t sound one bit like the city I intended to go to. In spite of the French and their complete disregard for phonetics just to make their language sound cute, the Metro is very comprehensible and easy to follow even for a dumbass. The precise instructions got us on the wrong train only 4 times on the first day of arrival. The bus system, I must admit is quite confusing and we used that only as a means to see the city after which we had to take the train to get to where we wanted.
‘Mmm..what do you think? You like it here? You can live here?’ Simran would spring this precise question every time we landed in a new place. This would be before we even embarked from the station, before I could even breathe the air. And I had this uncanny way of exasperating her by saying, ‘Yes of course, Lovely, isn’t it. I could live right here on his escalator. Always wanted a moving home.’ Same answer in Amsterdam, Brussels and Brugges. She never tired in trying to find out if I hated any place.
Holding up the map to locate our hotel from the Metro station was no easy feat. Follow a Street called Rue that intersects another street called Rue. ‘Hey hey, guys, I found it. Here is Rue. Come follow me.’
Thankfully the other two had higher IQ to figure that Rue means Street and if they were to follow me, we’d be going around in circles and we would get lucky if our feet gave in eventually.
The three of us had some great Japanese dinner with hot sake that put us in a nice mood. Remind me to eat some French food while I am in Japan. We had more wine while relaxing in the room where we would be reminded (by Pierre or Pyo downstairs) from time to time to keep our decibel levels a little lower and shut the eff up. Or in his dainty words- Shhhhh!
Conclusion about Paris after Day 1- If you want a quiet place to live in Paris, this hotel is it!
Took off by myself in the morning as I felt it would be prudent to leave the lovebirds by themselves in the romantic place while I could spend some quality time exploring this city alone.
‘Are you sure you’ll be fine all by yourself?’ Sims asked out of concern.
‘If I can’t deal with myself, who else will!’
I went whichever way my fancy took me. Yes, towards the Louvre. Especially since our hotel was a block away from it, it seemed the right thing to do. Wow, the Louvre looked quite grand. Took a million pictures. It looked very different from what I had envisioned. Slightly smaller and someone had stolen the glass pyramid, I concluded after walking around it. Walked inside to realize that it was the Opera House and that the Louvre was probably somewhere else intact with the Pyramid and Mona Lisa. Must remember not to mention such honest mistakes to the others. They would never believe me if I said the Opera house was worth a visit and that it was close to a lovely mall that I was intending to go to anyway.
Somehow by midday, I reached the Louvre to learn it was closed on Tuesdays (which happens to be the very day I happened to be there). So I got to see it from the outside without the bustling tourists. This time the Louvre looked every bit like I had expected it. Historic ochre monstrosity that would have been grandiose but bland if the resplendent pyramid right in front of it didn’t add a factor of surprise. Walking into this quadrangle gave the sense of being in a place that was worthy of only the royalty, of valiant heros and regal maidens…of Abishek Bacchan and Lara Dutta. The serenity of this place was shattered by loud Bollywood music. I rubbed my ears in disbelief and looked wide eyed to see a crew dancing to some song from the new blockbuster Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. I forgot all about Louvre and the Pyramid and ran with all my might towards this new Parisian Wonder. My day was made while I clicked away pictures trying to get the attention of Abishek’s make-up man. Was about to send an SMS to Narsim and Simran when I saw that I missed an SMS from them earlier- Come to the Louvre ASAP.
So they were here before me. Darn, I get no bragging rights for this one. Ms. Dutta, your clothes are going to be a rage at the red light district in Amsterdam. They'll take anything remotely from Paris. I'm so thankful for these photos, because none of the other pictures of Europe held the same sanctity for my relatives and friends back home.
Moved on to Notre Dame and came across many more majestic buildings and churches that looked as historic and important as the Louvre, but since I had no clue as to what they were, I wowed and continued my journey. That’s the thing about Paris. There is this grotesque display of history at every turn, wilting away with dignity or majestically mocking at you for not knowing what it is. A statue here, a fountain there and then you are faced with the eternal dilemma... to photograph it or not. Graciously greying without ever losing her sophistication and youthful glitter, Paris makes you fall in love. I walked along the river Seine, supposedly the most romantic walk in the whole world. I didn't pine for Luc, though I must admit it was very dreamlike. I am in head over heels in love with myself again. It was quite secluded and since the weather was wet, the book sellers that would have normally lined up their books in little green boxes had locked up and left much to my disappointment.
I crossed the river to St Louis Island (Ille de St Louis) and bought myself a pair of earrings. It’s impossible not to wander into the little stores in Paris. The women are stunning in a very casual way. The tights and boots combo that you’d see in runways and lunatics sat on these women with ease. The women are so well dressed and if I couldn’t get myself to look like that in a million years; I can at least try by buying what they wear and end up looking like the lunatic I had mentioned before. I walked in and out of book stores looking for anything English. A few hours later, I had nothing to show about Paris other than Abishek Bacchan. No museums covered, no Eiffel Tower, not even the famous sewer tour of Paris. But oddly enough, I was enjoying every minute of my time doing just this. I spent three hours in a coffee shop teaching the woman English. I know I know, I should be the one learning Bonjour, Comment Allez Vous etc…but she is the one who gets English customers. I’m here only for four days…who cares if I learn this language or not as long as I was getting my hot chocolate. She taught me a few things in French too… but seriously, what good is that now? Maybe if she had taught me how to make that lip smacking apple pie. Whoever said Parisians are snooty. They are proud, but not rude. It’s a good thing not to know the language sometimes. You can just smile when they’re ridiculing you at this store for trying out a sweater over your T-shirt. A truly general example.
It got dark and that’s when I opened the map for the first time. I had to know how to make my way back. Jeez, I had walked quite a bit around the Latin Quarter. It’d take me a while to get back to the Hotel and the thought of how much more money I would spend along the way brought in a new set of jitters. Maybe a cab would turn out cheaper than walking. Got back in time to have dinner with my friends. They had cabaret plans for the night and I declined the offer to go and see women in feathers kicking one leg in the air. On exchanging notes, by God, they had covered a lot of ground in one day. They had seen the Louvre, Notre Dame, Eiffel tower, the Grand Arch, Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomph and now they were going to this cabaret. To think my legs were aching and I was planning on retiring for the day.
‘Where did you go?’ they asked and I answered.
Going by their reaction, I might as well have said I slept in the hotel all day.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Enroute to Brussels on Eurail, my friend was mighty disappointed that the view outside the train wasn’t as pretty as they showed in DDLJ. For the uninitiated, DDLJ is a Bollywood blockbuster starring Shahrukh, Kajol and a cow. After much deliberation, the blog name for my friend will be Simran. So when I realized Simran was actually in Europe for the DDLJ experience, (people have weird reasons to travel…some travel to buy magnets and some to sing ‘Tujhe dekha to yeh jaana sanam’) I knew for a fact that I had better recreate Amrish Puri quickly or deal with huge sighs of disappointment through out the trip.
‘What yaa, the stations don’t look like the ones in the movie,’ she sulked.
If I could get my hands on that Chopra fella, I’m demanding a freaking explanation. Why Europe? Why Eurail? Why make such movies available to all and sundry? Can't wait to get my Sound of Music revenge in Salzburg.
Anyway, Brussels was very tiny. If we had actually moved from the two blocks we kept wandering in and out of for the fear of getting lost, we might have felt the city was enormous. The Grand Place square was incredible. Since we just stumbled into it, we were struck by its beautiful cathedral and gothic buildings. Many roads just end in such open squares all through Europe. But none compared to the grandiose of this particular one. It’s lovelier by the night. Coffee shops and restaurants line this square. A local artist painting, kids playing, a concert in progress, a tourist taking the 56th picture (not me, I stopped at 52) didn’t mar the beauty of this place. Waded through the tourists to check out this little peeing kid, Manneken Pis (name doesn't leave much for imagination) and that's exactly what we saw..a bronze kid peeing away to glory. I am sure tourists avoid buying his statue as we saw loads of them in the stores. We also saw a bronze dog peeing on the road. Belgians must surely come to India and see the real thing!
Brussels is also known for its cartoonists like Herge of the Tintin fame. So there are many murals/cartoons throughout the city giving the historic city an element of fun.
And like every cool traveler, we did a very cool thing. Ate at an Indian restaurant that sent magnetic forces towards us the first day. We decided to eat in a local joint and got cheese and more cheese into our blood stream. How much chocolates and waffles can a man eat…same as a woman. By the second day, we succumbed to the smell of aaloo baingan. Those restaurant people did have some sense of humor. The samosas had brussel sprouts as filling. Try this at home by all means, but not when I am invited. Thank you very much.
Big Ben in Belgium (not as big)
We took a train to Mini Europe. Now this place had always caught my fancy in pictures. Whenever someone showed me photos of walking among tiny scaled models of the Big Ben and Eiffel tower, I was quite enthralled. I didn’t mention to Simran and her hubby (chalo, let’s call him Narsim, who was a kabab-mein-haddi during our initial travel..so much for Shahrukh Khan bouncing towards us) that I had seen these pictures when I was a kid. So they played along and accompanied my excited self to this theme park called Mini Europe. I can’t tell you how I escaped strangalization by this suddenly turned violent couple. The park was at its cheesy best. I could have strangled myself…but put a brave front to ward off any more disgusted stares. ‘Wow, look at this…miniature Grand Palace Sqaure.’ I think that was when all of us developed allergic reactions towards the Grand Palace Square and decided to stay away from it for the rest of the day.
‘Let’s buy lace.’ Simran declared out of sudden fascination for procuring items that a certain place was famous for.
‘What?! That granny stuff? No way are we buying lace.’ Narsim simmered.
‘Why not’, I asked. ’They’d look lovely as head rests on your couch so that when I come to your house with my head full of Parachute oil, it wont stain the backrest of the aforementioned sofa. Also you could use lace to cover your telephone and TV when they are not in use.’
‘If you are buying lace, then I am buying a pipe and placing it over the TV.’ Narsim protested.
‘Pipe? Like PVC pipe?’
‘No, a smoking pipe.’
‘That might actually go with our décor. Forget the lace. Let’s buy a pipe. Is it famous here?’
So while this couple sorted out their differences over pipes and lace, I bought knives. It might come handy to slit throats in case it became necessary.
Monday, October 30, 2006
‘My dad in India thinks that we always have fun because we travel a lot.’, Latha said as suddenly as the cuckoo appeared from the clock.
‘You don’t?’ I asked, quite taken aback considering they seemed to be dishing a lot of cash in this activity.
‘You travel, you should know. You know how much you have to walk and eat all kinds of shit. When Dad came here, we took him to Paris and make him walk all over the city till he collapsed. After that he has agreed that travel is not all that fun.’
I didn’t ask Latha the obvious question because I knew where she was coming from. Checking off places and buying souvenirs as trophies for all that hard work done, she epitomizes majority of us tourists. Though my idea of seeing places might be slightly different, in some bizarre level, we are all varying degrees of Latha. But when my relatives ask me how many states in the United States have I checked off, I simply say I am not sure if I want to go to Idaho even if that is the 50th state I have to tick off. It is impossible to fully savour any place by merely walking over its surface and taking pictures. Landing in a place while you are in transit is not considered visiting a new country. Three years are not enough to know a place, let alone three days. You have got to imbibe the smells, taste the flavors, meet with locals, connect with travellers, share a part of yourself to even scratch its surface. I can safely say that I have just been introduced to these wonderful cities in Europe; I am still waiting to shake hands. I regret not spending that kind of quality time to even give you a decent account, but here are the samplers. I'll go back for the main course some day, unless of course South America beckons with its unchecked countries.
Amsterdam- Cycling the Canals
Don’t let the Dutch fool you with their collecting-phlegm-from-the-inner-cavities-of-the throat-ready-to-spit kinda language. They all know English. They speak that way to ward off tourists so that they can drink all that beer in peace. First thing that strikes you about this place are the bicyclists. They can run you over if you are not watching them from the second floor of your hotel room. A mom riding her bike with three toddlers thrown in a beer barrel like contraption attached to the font of the bike. A businessman in Armani carrying a briefcase in one hand and a talking on the cell phone with the other. Nothing extraordinary about that if he wasn’t maneuvering his bike at the same time through the crowded canal streets. The bikes are not even fancy owing to the number of bikes that get stolen or thrown into the canals. I really didn’t spend enough time in Netherlands to understand why anyone would want to hurl vehicles of transportation into bodies of water. Maybe during their equivalent of Ganesh Chaturti.
Amsterdam, being below sea level, is a city of canals that look very romantic by the night. Canals bordered by narrow roads that are lined by cute row houses. Cute from the outside and pigeonholes from the inside. The houses are quite tiny and it’s quite a feat to climb those narrow steep staircases. Which is why every house has a slab like protrusion from the roof with a hook attached to it. This helps in moving furniture with the help of a pulley through windows. Some of the houses actually are built leaning towards the ground for the same purpose. Being a Civil Engineer and all, I almost went ecstatic thinking I discovered an engineering flaw in construction. Felt disappointed to learn that people living in these houses are actually safe.
People must set aside at least 4 hours for dining here (actually most of Europe). They have no concept of hurrying up. For harried Americans or for people from countries with large population and less seating, it is difficult to comprehend. The waiters take their own sweet time to take your order and a light year to bring the food. To obtain the check, you must perform three mujras to get the attention of the waiter who is merrily smoking pot in the next table.
Made way to the Rijksmuseum to see the milkmaid woman the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer painted. Saw Vermeer’s house in Delft and the museum where his famous Girl with the Pearl Earring is housed. Thanks Gabby for that book and making me want to rediscover this beautiful place with my own eyes and compare it with what my mind had once construed through the wonderful narrative of Tracy Chevalier. It was fun trying to look for that fish market where Griet ended up and actually finding it with the help of our noses.
Anne Frank Haus was a slight let down and for people who hadn’t even read the book, it must have must have been a torturous tour. Personally, I feel it can be skipped; the tour and not the book.
Night took us to the red light district after having a piece of hash brownie. Our local friend, Mich, advised us on having ¼ of what was doled out to us in the coffee shop. Yes, a normal coffee shop. Drugs are legal and as easy to procure as...yes coffee. Last time a friend went to Amsterdam for a conference, he ate this brownie thinking it was well…a brownie. He woke up two days later missing his flight and the conference. This brownie thing was hardly hitting me. Was getting slightly frustrated after having paid six bucks for something that tasted like a brownie that would normally cost a buck. Ate another quarter piece without anyone’s knowledge. Still nothing. Got distracted by the lovely ladies in interesting negligee selling their wares by their respective windows. You could get as close as you would to a red tailed chimpanzee in Mysore zoo. But you couldn't take photos. A red light above their window meant they were ready and a purple light meant they were ready too. Just that the purple were transvestites and if you don’t notice the 5 o’clock shadow and the occasional Adam’s apple, you could mistake them for the nice ladies under the red lights. If a curtain was drawn, it meant they were busy…maybe painting their nails.
Sometime at midnight that brownie had a profound effect on me. I had a giggling attack. So much for the sinister effects of drugs. My friends got jealous that it didn’t hit them and tried to put me to sleep very unceremoniously. The world went in spirals and I felt like I was being sucked into my pillow. Like some kind of engulfing feeling. Like they show in the movies. The same purple-pink thingies going zigzag and the yellow-orange thingaboos spiraling outwards. Pulled out my dairy put a check mark next to Take a Canal Tour in Amsterdam.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Europe trip was awesome. The fact that I have reached safely without any mishaps (I am discounting the time when I rummaged through a garbage can for food in the streets of Paris) has changed Pi’s life. His theory that I am incapable of taking care of myself in his absence has been tampered with and he is desperately seeking answers. While he is busy plotting, I could tell you all about the journey, the destination and every speed bump inbetween. I’ll obviously skip the happy predictable parts so that you don’t get bored. With a demanding public like you, it’s difficult to make good stories out of a perfectly orchestrated trip such as this. Surely you don’t want to hear how lovely the scenery was and how yummy the apple strudel was. You’d probably strangle me if I told you that our hosts in Germany were the best and they made our stay pleasurable. Darn you Parmanu and Hardu! Couldn’t you guys have electrocuted me? Or at least my friend?
India was great too. Family bonding at it’s best. Dad-in-law’s sixtieth birthday was celebrated in the traditional way with style. We got him married off to the woman of his dreams- the same woman he had married 36 years ago. Nobody better complain that they didn’t get a second chance. To think Pi happened after the first marriage itself, they probably will be prudent this time.
Somehow it is good to be back home in Pittsburgh. In the comfort of the pot, I realised that one’s bathroom is certainly where the heart is.
All about this and the trip in subsequent episodes. Tune in regularly or be cursed to read the archives.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Just pray that I don’t-
- Lose my passport, wallet, tickets, friend and mind
- Wander into someone else’s room in the hotel (by mistake of course)
- Take a train to Wisbejiesgystan (I bet that is a country)
- Get caught for illegal possession of rice cooker
- End up reading map upside down thinking its French
- Spend more than 3 days in the Louvre and kill myself
- Sing ‘The hills are alive with the Sound of Music’ in Salzburg and kill others.
- Get too high on hash brownies that we don’t wake up for two days straight and miss the hash brownie plans for the next night. Shudder!
- Use my friend’s toothbrush –ewwwww!
But do pray that I get hopelessly lost in the lovely cities never to return to reality.
Today she stunned me by suddenly asking me if I blogged as Alpha. I thought it was a very well concealed fact barring a few hundred individuals who know I blog as Alpha but who don’t even read my blog.
As the story goes, this newfound friend of mine was gloating about meeting me (yeah me) to her oldfound friend in Philly (Philly girl) ‘This girl is nuts, needs her eyebrows trimmed, almost kissed me ..yeah here, has red eyes, doesn’t exercise in the gym and just moved from Chicago, claims to be married but looks like a teenager (the last bit I made up).’ Now Philly girl is into something sinister and illegal, which makes her read my blog on regular basis. So she said, ‘Oh that is Alpha.’ Just like that! My freaking real identity got compromised by my blog identity. Not really complaining as I did get a healthy dose of on-behalf compliments from Philly girl. Thank you, thank you. I swear this world is round- the size of a golf ball.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
So I smile, say hello to random strangers hoping they would smile and hand me over their horoscope and family medical history. I invited the bank ATM lady home for dinner when she said ‘Have a nice day.’ She is my best friend in Pittsburgh! I lost one friend the minute I got to know him. The Indian grocer. I asked him if there was a better Indian grocery store around and he took it personally.
Gym is a good place to pick up friends. It’ll freak you out to know that I am going to the gym more than ever now. All along I realized I was burning calories by tripping over sheer guilt of never going to the gym. The only humans I see there are Ray Romano if I go at the right time or Susan Lucci (the fifty year old who sells microdermabrasion kits) if I go at the wrong time. The fact that I bought one of those kits by ordering it while I was on the treadmill proves my miserable existence and why Susan Lucci is getting that glow on her skin. Because of all that money she is making from poor suckers like me who’d call and order a 40 dollar kit just to talk to another human voice. Fine, I will agree that my derma layer was having serious desires to get microabrased by sponge rotors dipped in suspicious looking goo. All this gym time hopefully lets me eat all the Belgian chocolates I want and still keep me in the 20 Most Sexiest Women Alive list. If you haven’t noticed, Pittsburgh has surely hasn't taken away my objectivity.
Moving on to my Europe trip... the reason behind this post. Now the people who didn’t even reach this far wouldn’t even know why I was writing what I was all along. What a pity!
Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany (maybe Luxemborg), Austria and Netherlands. I was hoping you wouldn’t notice the repeat. Parmanu, Aggressively yours Colours and Hardu were kind enough to let me stay with them for three whole days while in Germany (This might actually come as a shock to them. Since I was a little worried about dejection on the phone, I am resorting to this method). If they are still friends with me, please do not judge them. You’ve gotta love this blog; not only has it brought me closer to wonderful people whom I can stay for free, it will also make them strive to be wonderful hosts so that they can be written about gloriously after the trip. Sigh!
This trip planning has brought my cool factor to the abyss and my Patel factor to the top. I started off wanting to go alone, backpacking in Europe, meeting strangers and connecting with people (as you noticed Pittsburgh was my practice arena), taking in the sights unhindered by a set agenda.
See, that’s what I mean by cool. A cool that would get my grandchildren writing books about me. I was all set when in a weak moment, I invited a good friend. We found ourselves reserving hotels to stay. And yesterday while I was packing I realized that we are really not backpacking, much to my utter shock and dismay. We knew exactly where we would be and when. I had to shed my pride and my unwieldy backpack to reach out to my stroller suitcase. Ashamed as I am to admit it, I have to say, the clothes fit in perfectly with extra space for souvenirs. Heck, while I am at it, I might even take my camcorder and rice cooker (with seed for curds, of course!).
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Thursday, August 24, 2006
If I could describe it in words, I would have a best seller with my name on it. If my picture taking abilities could replace the thousand words that I would like to say, I’d never have to speak again (That swwwishhh was Pi rushing to enroll me in a photography class). For now you have to make do with a short summary of the trip and mediocre photos.
Day 1/Seattle: SIL, thanks for the hiking pants handed to me in the Seattle airport. We were inseparable. I spent the rest of the 10 days farting in it. Will return it to you soon.
Day 2/Seward: Portage Glacier wasn’t one of the 50 glaciers we saw on the way and called out, ‘Look Look, Wow Portage Glacier.’ It was the one we saw after paying a substantial amount for a cruise that took us right to it through the back alleyway.
Day 3/Anchorage: Blamed Pi for not explicitly telling the Bed & Breakfast lady that we preferred vegetarian breakfast. Considered smearing all the bacon pieces in Pi’s underwear out of abject hunger.
Lost one sock. So kept the other one visible to trap the thief. I still possess only one sock. N looks at a lame guy crossing the road with crutches and exchanges meaningful glances with us. Jeez, how insensitive!
Day 4/Talkeetnas: We were feeling at home on Ruth Glacier with the majestic Mt McKinley looming over us. Blissful moments cut short by bitchy pilot, Erica, who wanted to go home early.
Day 5/Talkeetnas: Café Mitchell was the best food we had in ages and when the bill arrived, we agreed that pleasing our palates shouldn’t be our highest priority.
Day 6/Denali National Park:
Backpacking tip- Make loud noise so that you won’t encounter or surprise a grizzly bear.
Us: ‘Hey Bear! Hey Bear! Lalaala. Dumdeedadum! Kaliaa, Kitne bhalu the?’
Suicidal person in our group: ‘Shhh..Shut up, you are scaring them away! I wan’t to see one.’ Day 7/Denali National Park: Wish I didn’t have to burn right glove by lifting scalding water off the stove. Now I have one glove. N doesn’t say a word about single handed people, but does give me a helpful suggestion. ‘Cut the fingers off so you can scratch your head.’
I spot a bear cub rushing across. Since I was the only one who spotted it, the fact remains under contention among the group.
Day 8/Denali National Park: The sun setting at midnight was rather disturbing. Not to mention, rising at ungodly hours like 4 am. Add to this phenomenon, Pi's snoring. Sleep deprived? Nod.
Day 9/Denali National Park: No more Ptarmigan sightings, Judy. No please! The bus driver pulls over to show us squirrels this time. ‘Oh, look look, The squirrel is chasing a Ptarmigan.’ Judy is the most patient when it comes to these idiotic creatures.
Author’s note: Ptarmigan is a fancy name for a bird that looks like a quail. It just sits with it’s family on the roadside waiting for eager tourists to look out and click pictures with their 20X zoom digital SLR. When the picture is visualized with bated breath, the bird looks like a freaking bird. When you don’t see grizzlies by the dozen, you get a bigger aversion to these innocent birds, like I did.
We saw Alaskan Huskies leading a sled. New words learnt- mushing, Iditirod race, Susan Butcher, Balto, Yukon Quest
Day 10/Fairbanks: Nothing to do in Fairbanks. We eat in Thai place.
Day 11/Fairbanks: Why the hell are we still in Fairbanks? We eat icecream.
I get chased by 2 extremely ferocious pit-bulls on the road. I survive to tell this tale.
Day 12/Enroute to Anchorage: Met hikers at the airport and exchanged stories. I did brag about the cub sighting. At least they seemed to believe me. We agreed wholeheartedly that there is no place like Alaska in the whole world. Breathtaking, simply breathtaking and yeah, just breathtaking. They didn't get to see Mt McKinley (Denali) the whole time they were there because the mountain was covered by clouds. I quickly pulled out my camera and gloated about my luck and how close we were to Denali. I showed her this picture.
She invited me to London to come and stay with her...maybe to poison me out of sheer jealousy.
Monday, July 31, 2006
Needless to say, I am a little tired now. Sleep deprivation usually results from two main activities over the weekend- cracking the D'Agapeyeff code or too much partying. Since I didn’t know who the heck D’Agapeyeff was till today, you are safe betting that I partied all weekend.
There is so much to write about, but time has reduced itself to a bonsai. For starters, I could write about this PhD ordeal coming to an end and how I will have to look for another topic to nag Pi about. Or I could write about the Great Alaskan Odyssey (just a cool name for the vacation we are planning to take this week). Once I am back from this backpacking trip, we pack and leave to Pittsburgh. I can write about how much it’s going to suck to leave and about the house that was never bought. I am dying to talk about the backpacking in Europe and the India trip that ensues in October. On a totally related note- anyone living in Paris or Salzburg ready to host one beautiful girl and her friend? Please send in your statement of intent along with your wife’s endorsement of your character. If I said ‘the friend’ was the author of this blog, I may be refused blatantly. That’s one of the reasons why S is coming with me, to help with the advertising. Am planning on using her to get free rides and museum passes too. My feeling is that her hubby wanted to get rid of her somehow and hence allowed her to go on a trip alone with me.
Or even better, I could write about how…..yawwwwwn!
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Update: Unblocked. People do listen to angry bloggers! Now if I can get Pi to make dinner.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Sunday, July 09, 2006
This morning Pi decides that he needs to see a doctor... AGAIN. It’s an emergency he declared. Every time that happens I have a hard time keeping a straight face and feigning concern, ‘What’s the matter, Kutta?’ (Now Kutta doesn’t mean dog; it’s a male version of kutti (not bitch), discounting the fact that kutti means ‘little’ in Tamil.)
‘Oh my god. That is a serious problem. Why didn’t you tell me before, you poor baby? Is it happening now?’ I sat on the edge of the sofa.
‘When I’m on a treadmill.’
The doctor's co-pay and the gym membership fees could have been used for logical things such as counseling for me. While Pi knows how to get to the hospital with his eyes closed, he had to introduce himself to the treadmill yesterday.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
‘Indian?’ asked the equally Indian looking lady behind the Subway counter.
I nodded and smiled genially.
‘Try this Southwest Chipotle sauce. Bahut accha hai.’
I nodded and smiled genially. I ate sandwich with Southwest Chipotle sauce.
‘Have a cookie. Rakh lo beta. No, no, I am not charging you for that.’
I couldn’t believe this. Me, who doesn’t even win a single pepsi can in lotteries, is getting a free cookie from strange Indian lady. I ate sandwich with Southwest Chipotle sauce and free cookie.
‘This sandwich is on me.’
Woah! Hold it lady. Next you’ll give me your shop and I don’t think I can handle this business. I ate free sandwich with Southwest Chipotle sauce and free cookie.
She came and sat next to me , 'Beta, where do you work? What is your caste?'
‘Brahmin? That’s ok. I think we can adjust.’
‘You must meet my son. He owns this store. Have you seen him? He is 45 and we are having a hard time finding a bride.’
I broke the news of my long standing torrid affair with my husband expecting an uncomfortable apology and maybe another white chocolate macadamia cookie for peace.
She got up and walked off unceremoniously. Luckily she didn’t grab the last bit of the cookie that was being stuffed in a hurry.
That’s when I realized I was her investment, a risky one at that. It would have been better if she was selling Amway products. I could have at least thrown a few curses and walked out in a huff. A 45 year old? Aiala!! Wonder if Botox is the way to go.
Strange encounters with Subway women don’t end there. So as you would have guessed, I stopped going to that place. I wouldn’t have been able to deal with the trauma of not getting free stuff anymore. I tried another Subway joint. Again an Indian lady behind the counter. Much younger and hipper. She spoke incessantly without ever letting me interrupt her for what I wanted on the sub. ‘Err..I don’t want those onions.’
‘Forget that, what I was saying is my husband comes to work at 5 pm. Till then I have to run this store. For a graduate from NIFT, I don't think I deserve this. I was better off attending parties in Delhi. Now I have three kids. I know it doesn’t look like that…..’
I got to eat what she thought was good for me. Even as I ate, she managed to leave her work to somebody else and continued her yak sessions with me. I munched on my lunch and she spoke about the travails of living in the US as a bread-wali. 'Imagine what my friends in Delhi must be thinking of me... yada yada... zardosi sarees...yada yada...'
Today she couldn’t get off from her duties (silent prayer of thanks), so she quickly ran towards me and slipped her phone number.
‘Give me a call. We should go on a date on Sunday.’
Whatever it is, I better get busy looking for another Subway restaurant in the area.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
My little Tibetian friend, Aqua, has pointed out that June 6th has been picked out to spread the awareness of Tibet's long non-violent freedom struggle against China. Learn, educate and act. Don't let your love for Chinese fried rice impair your judgement.
Monday, July 03, 2006
Just the other day, I asked him for help in the kitchen. ‘Could you please chop these onions?’ (Ok, it was more like- Get your sluggish mass here and cut the freaking onions if you have any devious intentions of eating what I cook today.)
He used the famous three strategies-
1. Eardrum failure to external noises other than TV.
2. After I managed to get his attention (which by itself was a horrendous feat worth a whole new post), sudden important work that needed his immediate attention came up and he promised to cut the onions as soon it was done.
3. He continued acting like the work was of never ending nature, hitting the keyboard at regular intervals and closing his eyes in deep meditation whenever I passed by.
An hour passed and the onions were the ones crying unable to bear the suspense of their demise anymore. To preserve my sanity and to prevent myself from smashing his computer in abject hunger, I decided that the onion cutting process would take only 2 minutes if I took the high road. Ambitious plans of disciplining him could wait for another day when I was less famished.
When I got back from work the next day, I saw him lying on the couch in the same position I had left him in the morning. I was certain that he had blinked once as the settled dust from his eyelids had fallen on to his cheeks. He mentioned something about an integral chapter of his PhD work that he intended to complete for the day.
‘Why don’t you do it now?’ I asked with growing concern.
‘I’m waiting for you to ask me to cut onions.’
Saturday, July 01, 2006
Translation- Where the yogeshwara Krishna who represents vision is present and where Arjuna who represents action is present, then there is success, justice and wealth (and a nagging wife).
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Since Ash is the only contributor in DP who seems to have taken the onus of scanning my posts to see if any are worth linking, I have to make sure she doesn’t go on vacation. I must thank DP for sending a few clueless travelers my way who only have to take one look at Draupadi and run for the nearest exit.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Sunday, June 25, 2006
Almost felt homesick when my car came to a screeching halt at this intersection. ‘Eat!’ my mom would say. ‘When I say eat, I mean eat’, she’d scream almost immediately as if she knew I would disregard her first time around.
Also felt like sulking when the guys in the perpendicular road didn’t have the ‘stop means stop’ sign attached to their stop signs. What is this partiality, I say! Are you saying the drivers that use that road are law-abiding people while we aren’t? That we need prodding and helpful pointers (in the same language as the actual sign) to ultimately comprehend? What if I don’t stop? Will I get a whack in my head with a ticket? A little shaken, I looked for a sticker on my car that says ‘Better stop at Greenwood and Damen Intersection.’
Oh no, you just can’t stop me
‘I’m clearly on a roll,’ he said
‘If you put a break to my stride
You will be as good as dead.’
I asked him to slow down
‘Relax and have some tea.
If you insist on running,
It’s hard to catch up, you see.’
‘No temptations of tea
Nor pouting faces galore
Will stop me from taking you
To a place you’ve not seen before
Now stop the hesitation
Just turn the freaking page
Don’t mess with me, darling
I’m the inevitable Age.’
Another year whizzes past
Leaving incomplete goals.
Goals are after all dreams
with deadlines and loopholes.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
As a kid, you needed a hobby to answer the question- What is your hobby? There was no other hobby other than stamp collecting that easily came to everyone's mind. Collecting abuses was not a serious pursuit as uniqueness was generally frowned upon. So stamps it was. Collecting them was not the hard part. You pillage, plunder and steal and before you know it you have three assorted boxes full of stamps of various origins containing diverse saliva. The two of the three boxes are in your friend’s house for the time being (till she dies a premature death). You owe 90% of your collection to your uncle who has been looking for his stamps to date.
It’s the categorization and organization that gets tricky. Now to trade stamps, you need to be able to display your wares in a professional manner. Sitting in boxes, under the bed, they end up getting stuck to each other in the heat and no one in their right frame of mind would exchange stamps with you. You dream of filing them all in a fancy album, carefully labeled with notes of the origin and history of each stamp. The exciting world, past and present, lies before you in the form of tiny bits of paper with serrated edges. You coax your parents to buy you a stamp book and they threaten to stop your weekly subscription to Amar Chitra Katha. So you use up all your pocket money to buy this album and curse Amar Chitra Katha for having such a strong hold on you.
The air in the room fills up with excitement when you actually are able to put your plan to action sorting them into different countries- Bharat, India, Malawi, Danmark, etc.. Then you put them in tiny covers and label them while they wait to get displayed on the album as their final destination. A rare Japanese stamp of a panda bear keeps you occupied in admiration for some time. You know it’s rare coz none of your friends have it. A circular one, a triangular one and you know you are probably the most sought after Philatelic in the parts. A smile.
Blue, pink, orange, yellow, green... these guys are so unoriginal. One more of these pesky little queen stamps, you just want to scream. Ok here goes..aaaaaaaaagggggrrrhhhh! How come you have too many Indian stamps? Way too many. No sucker wants to trade your 35 paisa Gandhi stamp with their Madagascar butterfly one. Wonder if these family planning stamps are really spreading the message? Or are they being delivered at the same rate as the babies? Who is Deendayal Upadhyaya and why is he important enough to be made a stamp of? Oh look, here’s the Leonardo Da Vinci one. Muah. Stick it next to the Mona Lisa. How cool!
Ouch your back hurts a little, your vision gets slightly blurred. Now you mechanically start distributing stamps without taking personal interest in them. Soon you start clubbing continents, as the space on your bed has become limited. Your brain is saturated and drained at the same time. You are at it for the last 12 hours and you aren’t even half way done. Numbness ensues and quickly you start gasping for breath. You look at the clock- its hours past midnight and if you don’t stop this now, you will probably throw them all out of the window in disgust(keeping a few rare ones of course). Overdoing things has always been a biggest cause of waning of exuberant interest that was once displayed. You are completely spent and bored out of your wits. With the last ounce of energy left, you clear the junk off your bed before you stagger and hit the pillow. Another day passes with only half your desires fulfilled.
Life is like collecting stamps. You collect little dreams, ideas, thoughts; some hackneyed and some rare. You want to compile those ideas, make an scrap book of your thoughts and implement a plan to realize those dreams. As you begin to execute them eagerly, you sometimes get tired, breathless, abandon interest and before you know it, you are 60. It’s time to retire. Time to complete that stamp album.
Monday, June 19, 2006
'Congrats, did I hear right?' Yes, you did.
'Finally, long due. Great news!' Yeah, I know.
'Wow! Congrats!' Thanks.
'You must be so excited.' Yes, i am.
'How's Pi taking it?' Great. he is quite happy. wha..?
Wait a minite! Took me the whole hour to undo the damage. 'No, I am not pregnant. Just found out that I passed the PE exam .'
Phew! That aside... I passed! See, I am not just another pretty face.
To prove that I am all heart too, I called up my friend who hadn’t passed the exam and told her that I didn’t make it through too. That made her day.
A true friend is one who dies a little every time you succeed.
Now to call and tell her that I was kidding and that I actually passed.
A truer friend is one who stabs you and writes a glorious obituary.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
The reason for my post is not about recounting my experiences of enacting the whole Vikram aur Vetaal bit with my unsuspecting brother. I would drag him out of bed, sling him on my back and throw him to see if he flew. The ending to this story is very traumatic with my mom locking me up in the balcony where I only felt it practical to learn flying and then teach my brother.
Here’s the real raison d’etre. In his hey days, my uncle was a chief engineer for the Narmada Valley Project (Please please, let’s not get all riled up against my family. He was only getting paid handsomely for it). He got to stay in the Narmada valley. Now you’d think that’s not a big deal. It isn’t till you hear that he gets to stay in King Trivikramasena’s palace4 on the banks of river Narmada in Madhya Pradesh. The name didn’t ring a bell till my dad told me that his other name in the vetaal community happened to be Vikram. I was in raptures when we were slated to meet uncle and his family for summer vacation. My brother was too little to understand the thrills of staying in such a historically significant locale. Maybe he was smart enough to know that this vetaal thing was probably hooky, a figment of someone's imagination to make Chandamama sell. All he could care about was the servants who’d bring a golden wash basin to bed and brush his royal teeth with diamond bristles. He makes the likes of Anna Nicole Smith pale in comparison. I was certain that my uncle wouldn’t be sitting on a throne, but I never broke that news to my giddy brother. In fact, I did something I would come to regret. I encouraged him. I told him stories of a raging war against neighboring king in which King Uncle came out victorious to the cacophony of conch noise. His white elephant had tusks as big as the slide in the park. And of course, our Queen Aunty would spend idyllic days in the palace gardens (that’s the only thing that happened to be true).
My brother couldn’t hide his excitement in the train. He told the co passengers that he was on the way to meet his King Uncle and that if they happened to be on the same train on the way back, he would reward them with a few pearl necklaces that he’d bring from the treasury. My parents shot worried looks at each other. I was amused no end. Co passengers pulled his cheeks.
My uncle and aunt came to receive us at the station. One look at them and my brother completely lost his marbles. His wails competed with that of the conch din he had been made to envision. My uncle was taken aback by this sudden display of affection. Through his sobs, he made it clear that he wasn’t interested in traveling with a crownless king. Amused, my uncle said he had left his crown at home (er..palace) as he had to come incognito to escape from the enemy’s eyes.
Part two of my brother’s displeasure took place in the parking lot when he saw a car instead of a horse chariot. So to appease him, we took a detour to Ujjain where we hired a tonga (horse cart) to take us around the city; all the while my uncle had to pertend to be the king. I think that reconciled my brother a bit as we didn’t hear much of his howling till we reached home.
The palace- It was just fabulous. In my scheme of trying to goad my brother, I had downgraded my own expectations of this place. Not one of the huge castles with moats and canons, but a really humungous bungalow capable of accommodating only the royalty. A palace of a king who ruled small kingdom. The scene took us back a couple of centuries even though the palace was renovated with modern amenities. Red carpets and wood paneling still dominated certain rooms. Ornate chandeliers and unexplored rooms. Manicured lawns with dancing peacocks. Huge balcony with a painting-perfect view of river Narmada flowing in the backyard that housed scampering monkeys whose granddad probably made faces at the brave King (or found the ruby in the fruit). King Vikram may easily have spent days standing here watching the sun set across the river, wondering if he should accept any more fruit from suspicious vendors.
There is something to be said of places that are not made into museums and are left for you to discover. There is something to be said about running along the river to find a graveyard. There is a lot of be said of imaginations and transporting yourself to an era you have always wondered about.
The best part of the palace was the basement that was converted to my uncle’s office. An oversized mahogany table and chair that only looked proportional to the size of the room. An enviable library with topographical maps lining the walls. A scaled down model of the controversial dam with my uncle's imposing presence completed the picture. ‘Saab, aapke liye chai5,‘ the servant chimed in. He truly was a King uncle. My brother beamed with pride as uncle lifted his non-golden cup of steaming tea.
Latest Update: Since I was just 10 when we went to visit uncle, I wanted to validate my memory and gather more information about this palace of King Vikramaditya. So I called my cousin in DC as King Uncle happens to be his dad.
Me: Cousin bro, where in MP was that Vikramaditya’s palace…where you guys lived?
Cuz: Vikramaditya? You mean, the vetaal king?
Me: Oh oh, don’t say a word. Ok, break the news. Was he even a king?
Cuz: It was Maharaja Holkar’s summer palace in Barwah.
Me (very very disappointed, especially since I wrote a whole freakin post on this Vicky fella): But papa told me it was King Vikram.
Cuz (mocking laughter): Your papa was probably pulling your leg. King Vikramaditya’s palace wasn’t too far off, if that is any consolation. It was in Ujjain. You probably did feel the chill of the vetaal while you were there.
Me (feeling more cheated than my brother would have felt, considering I believed it all along. Damn the power of believing what you want!): Is Holkar a decent king? I mean, did Chandamama have stories about his greatness?
1. In my case they forgot to hide the Harold Robbins
2. For people who aren't google educated, Manpreet Brar is a model, VJ and looks like a well bred horse (Google won't divulge that info)
3. Zap is a crazy blogger whom I used to frequent long time ago when he was in Rediff. He couldn't handle the fans and so he escaped. Thanks to vetal, I found him.
4. It is normal to allow Govt. officials to stay in renovated palaces during their tenure.
5. Sir, tea for you. ( I am pandering to my international and Tamil audience)
6. Still sulking
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Meeting the baby brother and his wife, a hike in Mount Rainier, treated to no rains, a surprise advance birthday gift (one night in a log cabin in the mountains), catching up with ex roomie and her little one.
End result: Alpha is a happy individual.
When friends asked me how my trip to Seattle was, all I had to say to the was ‘It was perfect and wonderful.’ No crazy stories, no freak incidents, not even one instance of me flushing my cell phone. Yes folks, I regret to inform you that this post will only contain happiness and mush, contentment and good vibes. Seeya later.
Rationale (SIL), I know you might be still reading. So here goes- Baby brother, Beta, sent me ticket to Seattle, but Pi happily tagged along. Oh, this post was supposed to be nice. Habit is hard to break. Yeah, so we reached Seattle and ooh-aahed over brother’s new house done up superbly. The couple gave credit to each other. It was hard to believe my brother would have such great taste, but then you’ve got to give it to Rationale to be so benevolent. There are more instances where Rationale shone above the rest. Read last bit of this post for details.
Mount Rainier, the breathtakingly lovely volcanic peak (14410 ft above sea level) that can be seen by commuters in Seattle was a treat to my mountain starved midwestern eye.
We hiked there. Clear skies… much more than we could ask for in Seattle. Even the hardcore Seattle people couldn’t stop exclaiming on how beautiful the day was.
‘Look look, Mt Rainier’ for the 12th time en-route Rationale would jump up and down in the car.
‘Yes, I notice.’ I hadn’t stopped noticing. It’s hard to tear your eyes away from it.
‘WOW! Isn’t is so pretty?! Tsk tsk! Woah! You can see it still!! You guys are so lucky its not cloudy today.’ My brother exclaimed.
‘Can you belive how lucky you are?!’ the same brother added in the same journey in the same hour.
At this point I was beginning to feel that it was probably their first time seeing the mountain too. Maybe I ought not to feel that jealous.
Our hike was quite pleasurable. There was snow all over and we had to hike on melting snow. Going up was slightly better than walking on quicksand and coming down was better than ice-skating with no experience. It was like ice-skating with very little experience. The sights were beautiful and even though the ice covered mountain gave us cold stares, we never felt more welcome. We sat on vocanic ash, dipped our feet in gushing streams and slid on ice. Stayed overnight at a log cabin that was a birthday surprise for me. I really had no clue. I was overwhelmed, so I invited the others to stay with me too. I cut the yummy birthday cake that was snuck into the fridge somehow. My birthday is not till much later, so hold your horses on the cheap age jokes. I guess Pi wanted to get done with my birthday stress as soon as possible. It was nothing but touching.
The owners of this cabin had an eclectic sense of style. There was a scary owl staring at us in the loo that gave Pi some constipation issues. Rationale counted 37 hearts in the bathroom itself in various forms and shapes. Then there was a framed picture of a nude woman in the bedroom. Pi was convinced that it is the owner’s girlfriend. We didn’t explore the theory further as we were dead tired and slept in the middle of the movie -As Good As It Gets. No one other than Beta had seen the movie before. My brother claimed to have seen it three times, each time not knowing he had seen it the previous time. He told us that after watching it with us for an hour.
Pi’s new company wanted a picture of him for his portfolio. So he pained me immensely to take headshots of him in various locales. A few hundred pictures and boatloads of patient sighs later, he breaks the news that the company may prefer him in semi formals and not T-shirts. I decided to retire from taking pictures for life. That’s when Beta and Rationale came to my rescue; rummaging cupboards, ironing shirts, dressing him up and taking him to well lit areas for the photo shoot. Pi basked in all the attention, getting pictures taken and rejecting them. ‘Look my eyes look tired in this. My smile looks funny here. Yikes, my hair looks oily. My pimple looks like a freakin pimple.. so on.’
That is when my brother lost it. ‘Someone remind him the photos don’t lie.’
So Rationale was the only one left with the onus of being nice to Pi. She did manage to finally get a picture that he seemed to like. Photo number 1289. He brought it to us and asked, ‘Whatdya think guys?’
‘Yes!’ in chorus we yelled.
Today I saw the portfolio and I think the other photo was much better. The number 809.
Friday, June 02, 2006
Anyone would have fallen for this. Since I am possessed half the time, I remember saying a polite ‘no’. Can't handle the traffic congestion, I said. But as Kartik thinks I am looking for sweet devoted partner, he decided to take things under his control and do what it takes to get me hooked. So touching is the concern. Luckily there is no photo. Kartik obviously knows women prefer mystery. Imagine the look on their faces when they see my painted nails. Sulekha (apart from having moronic employees) seems to be the place to meet partners, I am to find out. Since I am a couple of years younger than I used to be, I am open to running around trees.
Amma, I am bringing home your bahu soon. Babes who read Sulekha, please don’t get worried reading my post on my marriage to Bihari dude. I can explain.
Update: I am back from England. Some of the above links will not work. Problem fixed, thanks to kiruba @ kirubashankar.com. I am now married, female who is not intelligent. Pshaw! How boring!
Thursday, June 01, 2006
‘I am highlighting myself in neon yellow so that people realise I am important.’
'I am stapling my lipstick to my lips so I don't have to retouch.'
‘I am swiveling in my chair real fast to see if centrifugal force can take me home instead of my car.’
‘I am punching holes in my nose so I can have more avenues to dig from.’
‘I am sticking a post-it note on my forehead that says- Is it lunch time yet? and am planning to sit all day in the lunch room looking for a nod from someone. ’
This is for people who call me at work and ask ‘What are you doing?’ I am working dammit! Even if I was stuffing my sore eyes with porn, there’s a fat chance that I would admit it. Now if you would excuse me for a bit…
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
April 20, 2000- I thought I should keep a diary just to document my life here in Goriteragaon, Bihar. It also gives me an opportunity to keep in touch with English and mainly keep track of my kid’s names- Manipozhi, Thalaiarazan, Kodaiazhaghi, Manmathakunju and the last one is Maangaoorga…(yeah, I protested against Bihari names and I prevailed. Made sure there is no ‘v’ in the names so that they won’t have trouble pronouncing them. A name like Vamsh in Bihar could be easily mispronounced as Bums).
Regarding keeping in touch with English, I guess it’ll come in handy when we take that vacation with the kids to Patna next month. I still remember when I set my foot in this house and Ross introduced me to his parents. He told them that I was a Trasportation Engineer and that I would make roads in Bihar as soft as Hema Malini’s cheeks. “Teeransportassan? U ka hai babuwa? Bahu sadak banayegi? Humri naak katwani hai ka!“ (Daughter –in-law will make roads? And cut our noses?)
Hema Malini’s cheeks do not have truck traffic on them, I protested quite worried about the high standard that was being set. But that was the last time I heard of Transportation Engineering.
May 3, 2000- I should continue to nag Ross to stop eating paan. It causes stains on his shirts and the amount of Surf I use is causing my monthly Hashish/Ganja budget to dwindle. On my insistence he stopped whistling at other women or having sudden urges to draw portraits of them. One step at a time.
I will never forget the wedding reception when everyone danced to “Khaike Paan Banaras Wala” and I jumped on the dance floor too only to realize everyone else stopped doing what they were doing and started staring at me. Must learn to keep emotions under control here. Seems like people get scandalized easily. And somehow my mother-in-law being pregnant for the 20th time hasn’t shocked a single soul. Strange! By the time I have all the names of his family members down, 7 more are born.
May 15, 2000- My parents tell me that my US cousin gets up at 5 am, goes running for some 2 kms, washes her car, cleans her own bathroom and cooks food in the evening. That’s too much work. Udders are easy to clean than undercarriages of cars. Oh, I forgot to tell you- I got a buffalo for my birthday that I named Anti. The in-laws thought I would get excited and jump up and down at the sight of Anti, but I was very indifferent. I would have preferred a cow.
August 22, 2001- My brother-in-law just got abducted and got forced into some marriage (looks like the parents of the women will do anything to procure slightly educated guys- or guys with educated sister-in-laws) . Wait till the abductors find out BIL is gay. In-laws bummed about dowry situation. Even in my case, my dad refused to give them the Kinetic Honda or the old Onida TV. So they are cursing their fate and I have a feeling that grandma-in-law is probably going to get a heart attack any moment. Ok, need to go and access situation and be ready to wail loudly if deemed.
May 30, 2006- I long ago no riting. So much hapening Goriteragaon. Anti die. Little cry. Happily new cow buying and name of cow giving - Anti. I is loving cow. But died buffalo getting up from died and becoming live. Socking and screaming. Not good I tell. Not good for two animals keeping name Anti. So I giving new name for old buffalo- Buffalo formerly known as Anti. As a Tam Bihari would say- Udderly kilebbur!